Greensboro — Some North Carolina teachers planned to walk out of their classrooms Monday in protest after lawmakers earlier this year ended tenure, cut bonuses for graduate degrees and froze salaries.
But now teachers, including those in the Triad, are asking supporters to “walk in” instead.
“Walking out isn’t the way to have our voices heard because in the end, all that’s going to happen is that our students are going to suffer,” said Jamie King, principal of the Greensboro College Middle College.
Area educators — including those in Guilford and Rockingham counties — are encouraging people to visit local schools Monday morning, wear red in support of public education and thank or leave other messages for teachers.
They’ll be urged to join school parent organizations, volunteer or support the schools in other ways.
Although the events are being described as a “walk-in,” some lawmakers still see them as political action. One Raleigh elementary school reportedly asked for volunteers to watch classrooms for one hour Monday morning.
In response to complaints about the request, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, issued a joint statement Wednesday that schools should “not serve as marching grounds for political protests orchestrated by unions.”
Elizabeth Foster, who helped with local walk-in plans, said the general intention is for teachers to be in the classroom teaching while other officials interact with visitors. That could vary from school to school.
Forsyth County Schools will hold its walk-in Nov. 20, during American Education Week. That week in Guilford County, the community will be invited again to visit schools and get involved.
There’s a deeper point behind the invitation to visit local schools, said Foster, president of the Guilford County Association of Educators.
“It’s not just ‘thank a teacher day,’ ” she said. “It’s to provide the community with an overall understanding of the impact of state budget cuts.”
That impact, she said, includes swelling class sizes and dwindling resources. Despite efforts by district leaders to shield classrooms, years of cuts are taking a toll, Foster said.
Teachers use their own money to supply their classrooms. The district hasn’t adopted new textbooks in 15 years, Foster said.
“Let’s not even talk about the infrastructure,” she said.
Guilford County Schools has about $1.2 billion in facilities needs, of which about $179 million is considered urgent. The district has $80 million remaining from the 2008 bond that it can use, but the Guilford County Board of Education has been trying for months to prioritize the list of possible projects.
Foster said each year she goes out with district employees to see the building roofs and other structural problems.
“I mean, you’d be shocked, absolutely shocked,” she said. “These folks are trying to do the best with as little as they get.
“We do not have the funds to replace and repair everything that needs to be replaced and repaired in the school system.”
Teaching is not an easy job, King said. Most people may not know what it looks like to teach 33 or 35 students in a classroom who all are on different levels, he said.
Teachers agree morale is low.
“We feel like we’re no longer respected,” said Ann Petitjean, president of the Forsyth County Association of Educators.
As a result, she said, newer teachers are leaving the profession. After years without a raise, some can’t afford to stay, she said.
As those teachers go, schools will lose “the injection of new ideas and the most up-to-date training,” Petitjean said.
Veteran teachers eligible for retirement are quitting, too, leaving mid-career teachers to pick up the slack from both ends, she said.
There’s a “rotating door of teachers coming in for a year or two and leaving,” Petitjean said. “It’s not a good thing for kids. It’s not a good thing to have this inconsistency in the classroom.”